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a book about Harrisburg...

by George F. Nagle

 

Table of Contents

Study Areas:

Slavery

Anti-Slavery

Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

US Colored Troops

Civil War

 

Chapter Nine
Deluge (continued)

 

A Kidnapper Kidnapped


Farmer John Morrison of Dickinson Township, Cumberland County was fast asleep on the night of 10 June 1859 when, sometime between midnight and two a.m. he was rudely awakened by a loud knocking at his door. Morrison opened his door to find “three or four persons” there, strangers, who were inquiring for John Butler, the African American man that he had employed on his farm since March. Morrison naively gave them general directions to Butler’s house, which was about three-quarters of a mile distant, and then returned to his sleep. He awoke the next morning feeling uneasy about the late night disturbance and decided to check up on his hired hand and the man’s wife and child.

The eastern sky was showing some light in the predawn hour as Morrison saddled a horse and rode over to Butler’s house. What he saw confirmed his fears. He “found the house open, went in and found no person there; found the hat, coat and boots [Butler] had worn the day before were lying here and there around the room.” Other clothes belonging to a woman and to a child were lying in disarray around the cramped interior of the small house, and the family’s personal possessions—a snuffbox, a photograph, and “several other trinkets”—were similarly scattered across the floor. Morrison noticed that “the bread was made up in a tray,” awaiting the bake oven. It was obvious to him that the family had not left their home voluntarily. He ran over to a nearby stable and saw that a “two-horse wagon had been hitched and turned round.” He followed the track of the wagon, suspecting that it had been used to kidnap the family. It led him “down the pine road, past Mathew Moore’s and on to the turnpike gate.”55 From there he went to get the sheriff.

 

Flourish

John Butler was thirty-seven years old when he worked as a farm laborer for John Morrison. He had not been long employed by the Dickinson Township farmer, because, in the spring of 1858 Butler was held as a slave by Theodore Hoffman, a farmer in Johnsville, Carroll County, Maryland. Those who knew him described him as a “raw-bony man” with a beard and a mustache. In the racially-charged parlance of the day, he was a “yellow” man, indicating a light skin color, and said to be “hardly as bright as a copper color.”56

John was married to a woman named Emeline, and the couple had a daughter named Elizabeth, but Emeline and Elizabeth belonged to a different owner, meaning that John was limited to visiting his family only when Theodore Hoffman allowed it. John Butler was known at that time as Rezin Martin, the name under which he was formally registered as Hoffman’s property in the State of Maryland. Originally, John and his family were all owned by the same person, Surat D. Warfield, but as so frequently happened to slave families, the death of the owner led to the breakup of the family. According to a neighbor who knew the Warfields, “After Surat D. Warfield died, his negroes were all divided between his heirs.”

John’s wife and daughter, who was not yet two years old at the time, became the property of Surat’s daughter Elizabeth Warfield, and John became the property of John A. Warfield. Fortunately, the Warfield families all lived within a short distance of each other in Frederick County, so for the Butlers (known then as the Martins), life went on pretty much as if little had changed.

Things got less certain for them, though, in 1854, when Elizabeth Warfield became gravely ill. The Butlers knew from bitter experience that if Elizabeth Warfield should die, they would again face the possibility of being separated. Perhaps Emeline talked to her ailing owner about her fears, or maybe Elizabeth Warfield just understood the precarious nature of their lives, because before she died, Elizabeth Warfield provided in her final will and testament for the manumission of Emeline and Elizabeth upon her death. The old woman died in 1854, and when the will was proved on 9 January 1855, Emeline Butler and her daughter Elizabeth became free persons. The family breathed easier, knowing that, regardless of what happened to John, his wife and child would be free to follow and live near him.

In fact, John Warfield did sell John Butler, in 1856, to a farm manager named Theodore Hoffman, who lived in the neighboring county of Carroll. Hoffman was an overseer for a man named Saum, and he used John Butler as a field hand and as a teamster. Hoffman, to keep John happy, agreed to find room on Saum’s land for Emeline and Elizabeth, and he set them up in a small house on the edge of the property. The small family had again dodged the inevitable break up, and things quieted down again for them for a while.

Even as the Butlers were living quietly on the Saum property, though, trouble was developing with the administration and settlement of the Warfield estate. Elizabeth Warfield’s executor, Richard Warfield, was finding that her debts exceeded her liquid assets, and as it was his duty to settle the estate and satisfy her debts, he decided to sell whatever he could, which included the rest of her slaves. He sold some to persons in Baltimore, some to persons in Frederick and at least one slave experienced the worst possible fate by being put up for public auction. Then Richard Warfield seized upon a Maryland court ruling that allowed the executor of an estate to ignore a clause of manumission in a will if it would “prejudice the creditors of the testator.” He decided that Emeline and Elizabeth would have to be sold as well, and in February 1858 he obtained a court order to do so.

The Butler family was devastated to find Emeline and Elizabeth’s freedom melting away. In desperation, Emeline appealed to local farmers for money to “buy” herself and her daughter. Some refused outright, some were noncommittal, and a few promised to give her part of the money. She appealed twice to a farmer named Jon Strausberger. At first he told her he would give her part of the funds she needed, but when she came to him in the spring of 1858 to ask for the promised funds he told her he would pay “as soon as the rest commenced paying.” Strausberger “did not care about being first.” The woman could see that she was caught in an unviable situation as none of the local farmers wanted to be the first to put up money.

That was when the family decided to take their freedom into their own hands. Shortly after Emeline’s unproductive meeting with John Strausberger, John, Emeline, and Elizabeth quietly left for Pennsylvania, settling down in Dickinson Township, near Carlisle, under the name Butler.57

 

Flourish

The man who came for John Butler and his family on the night of 10 June 1859 was Emanuel Myers, a thirty-three-year-old farmer who lived on the Baltimore Pike just across the Maryland line. Myers was a family man who owned a small amount of property, had a wife named Catharine who was about the same age as he, and four children who ranged in age from two to nine years.58

Myers was not a professional slave catcher. In the summer of 1858, John A Warfield, as agent for Richard Warfield, had made two trips into Pennsylvania to try to reclaim the Butler family, but was unsuccessful. Richard Warfield tried to find someone else to capture them but had no luck until, in the spring of 1859, he talked to Emanuel Myers, who agreed to retrieve the family in return for $1500. At the advice of his attorney, Warfield gave Power of Attorney to Myers and sent him to Carlisle in search of Thomas M. Biddle, who he thought was the United States Commissioner.

When Biddle told Myers he was no longer the acting slave commissioner, and that no one had been appointed to fill the position, Myers then asked Biddle, in reference to the Butler family, “What if I take them away anyhow?” Whatever Biddle said in reply to Myers, it was not an explicit warning that he would be arrested for kidnapping. Myers, emboldened by what he took to be a noncommittal reply from Biddle, decided to proceed with his plan, and that night he took two helpers and a carriage and went in search of John, Emeline, and Elizabeth Butler. The trio of slavecatchers offered ten dollars to a local man named Gass to show them where the family lived, which he did, and after a brief struggle at the modest house, succeeded in getting the Butler family loaded into the carriage, after which they sped south, stopping only to leave a dime on the windowsill of the toll keeper’s house.59

The brazen kidnapping of an entire family shocked the neighbors in Dickinson Township. On 14 June, John Coleman, a free African American farm worker and friend of the Butler family who lived just down the road from them, swore out a complaint for Sheriff Robert McCartney. Butler’s employer, John Morrison, covered the legal fee. Sheriff McCartney enlisted a deputy and borrowed a shotgun from a neighbor, then went in search of the men identified as the kidnappers.

The posse quickly arrested one person within the county, but their main quarry, Emanuel Myers, was safely beyond their reach in Maryland. John Morrison accompanied the lawmen on their trip to Maryland. As the employer of John Butler, he had an interest in recovering his farm hand, but Morrison had another angle: he was also an active agent of the Underground Railroad in that area. He, together with neighbor Richard Woods, utilized a swampy area on their land to hide fugitive slaves that were sent to them.60 Morrison probably also felt considerable guilt at being the person who sleepily directed the kidnappers to the Butler house.

McCartney, Morrison, and the deputy met with the sheriff of Carroll County in Westminster, but the sheriff was uncooperative regarding the requested arrest of Emanuel Myers. At the Pennsylvanians' request, the Carroll County sheriff took the party to the Westminster jail, as that is where they believed Myers had taken the Butler family, but the kidnapped family was not among the African American prisoners there.61 They returned to Dickinson Township empty handed, but still determined to get Myers. Someone in the group pointed out that if they could trick Myers into coming back onto Pennsylvania soil, he could be arrested. Sheriff McCartney decided it was worth a try.

 

The Mail Coach Ruse

On Friday, 17 June, Sheriff McCartney, John Morrison, and possibly a few other men again went to seek Myers, but this time they took the stagecoach down along the Baltimore Pike. Morrison got out of the stage well back from the Pennsylvania side of the border and watched as the stage driver, a man named Tate, stopped at a building just inside the Pennsylvania line. Tate could see Myers’ house just down the road, on the Maryland side of the state line, and he hailed Myers from where he was stopped. Emanuel Myers came out and Tate yelled to the man that he had a letter for him from Murray Shilling, a neighbor, and that he could come get it. Myers apparently never suspected a trap, so he walked over.

When Myers climbed up to the driver’s seat to retrieve his letter, Sheriff McCartney stepped out of the stage and handcuffed him, telling the Maryland man that he was being arrested for kidnapping. This dramatic luring of the Maryland man to Pennsylvania soil had an ironic twist to it, which was printed by abolitionist newspapers under the headline: “A Kidnapper Kidnapped.”62

The trial of Emanuel Myers, which was held in November at the next Court of Quarter Sessions in Carlisle, was considerably less dramatic than the capture. Held in the shadow of the Harpers Ferry fallout, it was largely overshadowed by the events in Charles Town and the rescue operations for fugitive Owen Brown and his companions.

Sheriff Robert McCartney testified that he cautioned his prisoner “not to say anything” during the stage coach ride back to Carlisle, but Emanuel Myers would not shut up. He told the sheriff how much he was being paid to capture the Butlers, he described how the Warfields and their lawyer were supposed to “keep him clear,” he told the sheriff that he knew “the woman and child were free” when he took them. He even told McCartney about his encounter with Thomas Biddle, and how he had stated to Biddle his intention of taking the family away without a warrant. Myers made a point of telling the sheriff how he had “left ten cents on the sill of the window at the gate house when they drove through the toll-gate that night,” as if this act of honesty would exonerate him for overseeing the violent kidnapping of three people. “Myers,” the sheriff concluded, was "a great talker.”63

In the end, the jury convicted Emanuel Myers of three of the nine counts against him, which pertained to the violent kidnapping of Emeline and Elizabeth Butler, who were determined to be free persons with the proving of Elizabeth Warfield’s will in January 1855. Because the Warfield heirs allowed the woman and her daughter to live as free persons, they were therefore considered free prior to the establishment of debts against the estate, which did not happen until February 1858. The Butlers all returned to their home in Dickinson Township, Cumberland County and Emanuel Myers was sentenced to prison for five to twelve years and ordered to pay a fine of five hundred dollars.64


Another Case in Harrisburg

Less lucky than the Butler family was the fugitive Moses Horner, who was captured while at work in a field near Harrisburg on the evening of 26 March 1860 by two slave hunters, one of whom was Deputy U.S. Marshal John Jenkins. Horner was taken to Middletown, where the party boarded a night train to Philadelphia to have the man examined by Judge John Cadwalader of the U.S. District Court as a fugitive slave. Horner was placed in Moyamensing Prison until the hearing, which Cadwalader set for the afternoon of 27 March, to allow the defense time to study the details of the case.

Once it began, the hearing strongly resembled the recently concluded Daniel Dangerfield case, with Benjamin Harris Brewster again appearing for the owner, a man from Jefferson County, Virginia named Charles T. Butler, and PAS lawyers George H. Earle, William Bull, and Edward Hopper representing Horner. The first part of the hearing was taken up by an examination of paperwork, and after some brief legal maneuvering, Judge Cadwalader adjourned the proceedings until ten o’clock a.m. the next day, to allow for the arrival of defense witnesses from Harrisburg.

The anti-slavery lawyers, recalling the effectiveness of Doctor Jones’ testimony at the hearing for Daniel Dangerfield, were obviously hoping for a repeat performance, and a telegram was sent to Joseph Bustill in Harrisburg to prepare and send some effective witnesses. Something went wrong, however, and the hoped-for witnesses never showed up in the courtroom. Judge Cadwalader ended the hearing early, decided in favor of the slave holder, and ordered the remanding of Moses Horner to Virginia.65

When the marshals tried to remove Horner from the courtroom, however, things got ugly. Eyewitnesses remembered how a “tremendous crowd” had assembled on Fifth Street to support Horner, and when the fugitive was brought outside and loaded into a waiting carriage, a “rush was made to rescue the prisoner, and the horses drawing the carriage in which he was [sitting] were twice pushed over upon the sidewalk.” Considerable damage was caused to the carriage; “there was the wildest confusion, and the excitement was beyond description.”

City policemen were on hand. The local authorities by now had come to expect violence in the aftermath of fugitive slave cases. A witness reported, “The police charged the mob again and again, and finally drove it off.” Those who were there remembered that “broken heads and bloody noses were plentiful in the vicinity of the Old Court House.”66 Ten of the protestors were arrested and five of them were fined twenty-five dollars and imprisoned for thirty days.

The outrage over the arrest of the protestors was as bitter as for the re-enslavement of Horner, who by 4 April had been returned to the Charles Town jail, the same jail that had held the John Brown raiders a month prior.67 Abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper wrote to the Weekly Anglo-African in praise of the rescue effort, and in support for the convicted rescuers, dubbed the “Moses Horner Five, calling for national action, saying "Shall these men throw themselves across the track of the general government and be crushed by that monstrous Juggernaut of organized villainy, the Fugitive Slave Law, and we sit silent, with our hands folded, in selfish inactivity?"68 Her words were yet another in a steady drumbeat of calls to action, and large numbers of the citizens of Harrisburg, black and white, heeded them. Regardless of the Moses Horner decision, central Pennsylvania, and Harrisburg in particular, was not going to be inactive.

 

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Notes

55. Court of Quarter Sessions of Cumberland County, “The Trial of Emanuel Myers, of Maryland, for Kidnapping Certain Fugitive Slaves, Had at Carlisle, Pennsylvania” (November 1859) 2, Library of Congress, American Memory, “Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860,” http://memory.loc.gov (accessed 5 July 2006).

56. Ibid., 3.

57. Ibid., 3-7.

58. Bureau of the Census, 1860 Census, Carroll County, Maryland, 58.

59. “Trial of Emanuel Myers,” 3.
This was at least the second time in a few months that slave catchers had sought out Thomas Biddle for warrants. In February of that year, John W. Patton and Sanford Rogers had come to him to obtain a warrant for Daniel Dangerfield, but Biddle advised them to go to Philadelphia. If Biddle also advised Emanuel Myers to go to Philadelphia, it was not recorded.

60. Biographical Annals of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Genealogical Publishing, 1905), 764-765.

61. “Trial of Emanuel Myers,” 3-7.
Myers had actually taken the Butler family through Taneytown to the jail in Frederick, although by the time that Sheriff McCartney and his party inquired for them, they had already been returned to their respective owners.

62. Ibid.; National Era, 18 August 1859; Carroll County Democrat, 23 June, 14 July, 1859.

63. “Trial of Emanuel Myers,” 4-5.

64. Ibid., 10-15; Carroll County Democrat, 1 December 1859; Bureau of the Census, 1860 Census, Lower Dickinson Township, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, 170.
Although Myers was not convicted of kidnapping John Butler, who was the only member of his family recognized by the court as a fugitive slave and the property of Theodore Hoffman, Butler continued to live as a free man with his family in Dickinson Township following the trial. It is possible that his neighbors contributed funds to help him purchase his freedom, just as many of them had contributed money to capture Myers.

65. New York Times, 28 March 1860; Pennsylvania Telegraph, 4 April 1860; American Anti-Slavery Society, The Anti-Slavery History of the John Brown Year (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1861), 59-60.

66. Clothier and Mulholland, “Philadelphia in Slavery Days.”

67. Leesburg Democratic Mirror, 4 April 1860; Quarles, Black Abolitionists, 214. Quarles lists the “Moses Horner Five” as Alfred M. Green, St. Clair Burley, Jeremiah Buck, Basil Hall and Richard Williams.

68. Sarah Klein, “Me, You, the Wide World: Letters & Women’s Activism in Nineteenth Century America,” Women Writers: A Zine, ed., Kim Wells, http://www.womenwriters.net/may2001/zineepistolary.htm (accessed 25 August 2005).


 

Caution: Copyrighted material. Published September 2010.

© 2010 George F. Nagle

 

 

This is the first in a series of books from the Afrolumens Project. Drawing on a large number of sources, and making good use of the treasure trove of information on the pages of the Afrolumens Project, this is the first truly comprehensive history of Harrisburg's African American community.

Pick up your copies at the Mid-Town Scholar Bookstore, Civil War and More Books, the National Civil War Museum,
or at the 2010 Harrisburg History Center.

Both volumes also available on Amazon.

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